This morning my daughter glanced at the paper and said, "It's April Fool's Day today."
"No, it isn't," said my son. It was early enough in the morning that he spoke in his grouchy, self-assured voice.
"Yes, it is," she shot back, just as confident.
"No, it isn't."
"Yes, it is."
"No, it isn't."
I decided to intervene. "Take a look at the date on the upper left hand--"
"April Fool's," said my son, deadpan.
"Good one," said my daughter.
My son's successful trick lay in its plausibility. He was playing his grouchy, self-assured, and occasionally misguided self perfectly-- except that he wasn't. In so doing, he reminded us that the world is often not what it seems, and that we must be on our guard.
Human beings prefer continuity and tolerate change. When change comes, we'd like to be alerted and prepared. The calendar reminds us of the most basic changes, such as a new year, an equinox, or a solstice.
Many festivals get scheduled around these in-between times in order to guard against too much-- or the wrong kind-- of change. As we pass from one state to another, we get tense, and in that tension lies the danger of things falling apart. Anthropologists call this state "liminality."
The Greeks had a festival of new wine (opening jars never previously opened-- scary!) called the Anthesteria during which people dressed in mask and constume and rode in carts insulting people-- impersonating spirits from another world. During the liminal time a window was "opened" to this other world, and demons could get in. By doing the spirits' job for them, the insulters sapped the spirits' power.
April Fool's feels like another liminal festival (close to the equinox as it is) during which we take the time to sap the power out of whoever or whatever is out there attempting malevolent tricks. Like the ancient Greeks insulted by the masked revelers, it's much better to have your son pull the gag on you than some unseen force let loose during this uncanny but necessary transition.
So if someone has already pulled a trick on you, be thankful. You're bound to have a happy spring ahead of you.